The Steelers (7-5-1) face the Patriots (9-4) Sunday at Heinz Field with playoff implications on the line, and they could head into the matchup without starting running back James Conner.
Conner, who was injured in the Steelers' 33-30 loss to the Chargers in Week 13, missed the team's most recent game vs. the Raiders and may be held out for a second straight week.
"He hasn't practiced yet," Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner told media members Thursday at the Rooney Complex. "I'd love to have him back, no doubt, but not if he's not healthy to do it."
Dealing with an ankle injury, Conner is facing a two-headed beast he must clear in order to return. First, his ankle needs to be healed. Then, the coaches need to have enough faith in the second-year running back to come back on potentially just one day of practice for the week.
Regarding the second point, Fichtner has confidence in his player.
"He played a lot this year," Fichtner said. "You think about how many touches and how many situations he's in... I know at the beginning of the year, everyone was asking about trying to get him out of the game because he was in too much. But he's been in there. I'm not going to just go on record and say he's a veteran already, in a year, but he is."
According to Fichner, Conner is playing his injury situation perfectly, taking every possible step to ensure his prompt return.
"He does a great job (taking) care of his body," Fichtner said. "He's living in the training room. You couldn't ask anything more from him that way."
In 12 games this year, Conner has 909 rushing yards to go along 12 rushing touchdowns. He's also played a significant role out of the backfield, catching 52 passes for 467 yards and one score.